Family Therapy Can Help Beat the Odds Against Intergenerational Trauma and Addiction

1While people with addiction have to work on their own journey, the roots of addiction run deep, far, and much wider than people realize. There are many working parts of addiction. Many people with addiction experience intergenerational trauma which influences their substance use and recovery. When people don’t know the origins of their substance use, it can perpetuate it until they work through family therapy and intergenerational bonds which have caused circumstances to bring great pain and turmoil in their lives. Intergenerational trauma is very real for many people, with entrenched habits and behaviors that drive addiction. Find out more about this and how to combat it in recovery. 

Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational trauma occurs when trauma is transferred from one generation of survivors to others. Even though this generation did not survive the trauma, per se, it gets passed down from parents to children and continues a legacy of pain and denial of the trauma. Sometimes trauma is transferred within the genes. Other times, it is transferred through behaviors. The transfer is traced to PTSD and sometimes psychological issues, abuse, and neglect are ignored. People who suffer may be in situations where there is no physical or mental escape plan. When veterans have seen their grandparents and parents suffer the effects of war, they may go into combat thinking they will fight hard and it will be worth the battle. As much as they might enjoy the battle, they can also come back with PTSD and injuries that force them to reconcile with generational trauma. 

Understanding Trauma

Trauma works in different ways in different families. When it is passed down behaviorally, it is because people are doing things they have learned or been taught. Even if no second-generation connect to it right away, the effects of the traumatic events or patterns still exist. Trauma can transfer to people through physical after-effects like malnutrition, drug use, or other things that impact a person’s overall health. Poverty is often seen as intergenerational trauma. Addiction and substance abuse force people to do things they would not otherwise do. Every remedy is used to cope with the pain, including drugs and alcohol. Often, this trauma occurs because survivors and witnesses have not processed their grief. One person is often ‘chosen’ to carry and deal with the trauma. If left alone to do this, that person can turn to addiction and substance use.

Effective Coping Strategies

When people come into recovery circles with trauma in their past, they may or may not realize all the layers involved. With trauma survivors, they are almost always dealing with long-held beliefs, systems, and challenging behaviors that need support. Family therapy is a great place to open up a conversation about how and why these things happened and begin the healing process. Some key components to keep in mind:

  • Open up avenues of communication. Work with family members to talk about the issues openly in therapy. Bring in the people who are willing to do the work, not those who are in denial or are unable to support the journey forward. Talk about feelings, own then, and stress the responsibility everyone has to help one another.
  • Seek counseling: a qualified therapist helps people analyze behavioral patterns. They help determine if they’re doing things based on trauma or if their dreams carry evidence of trauma. If a person is dealing with the complexities of grief, this is another sign. 
  • Seek help for addictive behaviors: don’t wait to seek help for addiction and chronic relapse. Trauma plays a role in addiction. Transgenerational trauma helps people know what type of treatment is needed. When dealing with addiction, there are many layers so go slowly into the process and embrace it one step at a time

Embracing Healing

Family therapy is difficult for people because it opens up historical trauma for many people. It also brings conflict into the light and not everyone is ready to cope. However, it may be important for the person with an addiction to openly address the issues in therapy where it is a neutral setting. Healing does not happen overnight. It may take a long time in therapy to work out all the past issues to a point of resolution or acceptance. Healing from addiction is a lifelong journey that takes time for people to cope in a positive way. They have to notice the patterns then be willing to work on them. 

Finding Hope

The work of healing is never done. There are always more ways to incorporate helpful tools into a person’s daily journey of recovery. With family, there may be some who embrace the journey while others choose not to. The goal is to be concerned with personal healing in recovery and hope the family wants to come along for the ride. Focus on personal healing, but embrace the opportunity for family therapy. It can bring great healing and opportunity if people are willing to seek spaces where they can find room to grow stronger and more present to themselves and others through family therapy. Even if it does not heal all wounds, it at least provides space to bring light to the dark corners of issues that lie under the surface and begin the journey of healing.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.

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